Lawmakers’ Pre-Session Dash for Cash Now Underway, Via Zoom

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The days leading up to the start of the General Assembly session bring an endless stream of political fundraisers, as lawmakers rush to vacuum up campaign cash before a three-month ban on fundraising takes effect to coincide with the 90-day session ― and interest groups seek to curry favor with the powerbrokers who control legislation.

But instead of the customary early January carousel of activity running between a handful of Annapolis watering holes and breakfast spots, the action this year will all be virtual, meaning that donors and supplicants will be spending their days flitting from Zoom event to Zoom event.

Over the past few years, early January has seen about 60 fundraisers in the frantic days leading up to session; this year, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have limited the volume somewhat, with about 40 on the docket between now and the Jan. 13 session kickoff.

The legislature’s two presiding officers ― House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) ― have fundraising events scheduled, and so do many of the legislature’s key committee leaders.

Some lawmakers did not wait for the end of the holidays to begin shaking the tin cup: lobbyists’ fundraising lists showed that at least two fundraising events took place on Dec. 29, as well as one on Saturday and another on Sunday.

Once the fundraising ban goes into effect at noon on Jan. 13 ― when the House and Senate gavel in ― political committees have a week to submit their annual campaign finance reports, which reveal fundraising and spending activities for the previous year, to the State Board of Elections. That will provide a sense of how much the COVID-19 pandemic hampered Maryland politicians’ money chase.

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-Lower Shore).

The horse race of post-holiday fundraisers begins in earnest on Monday afternoon at 4 p.m., with a virtual event for Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-Lower Shore). Ticket prices range from $75 to $1,000.

Ferguson’s fundraiser is a virtual luncheon scheduled for noon Tuesday. Ticket prices cost as little as $46 for residents of Ferguson’s 46th District but otherwise run from $100 to $1,000. Contributors have the option of picking up a lunch from a catering firm in Locust Point, which is in Ferguson’s district.

Jones’ online fundraiser is a morning affair scheduled for Friday, and it appears to have a nautical theme. Contributors can purchase skiff tickets ($500), anchor tickets ($1,000), cruiser tickets ($2,500) or yacht tickets ($5,000).

Two of the four chairmen of Senate standing committees have fundraisers scheduled for the run-up to session.

Budget and Taxation Chairman Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard) has a “BYO Breakfast” virtual fundraiser on Thursday. Sponsor tickets range from $250 to $4,000. Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairman Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) is holding a virtual fundraiser the same day at 5:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $250 to $1,000.

Sen. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s).

In fact, Thursday is the busiest day for pre-session fundraisers, with at least 13 events on the calendar ― including a “no show” jazz fundraiser for House Ways and Means Chairwoman Anne R. Kaiser (D-Montgomery), with sponsorships ranging from $500 to $4,000; an evening virtual fundraiser for House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), with ticket prices starting at $150 and scheduled appearances by Jones and Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D); a morning fundraiser for Senate President Pro Tem Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), with appearances by Ferguson and Guzzone (host tickets start at $250); an evening fundraiser for Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, with sponsor tickets ranging from $250 to $2,000; and a mid-morning fundraiser for the two new leaders of the Senate Republican Caucus, Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) and Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick), with tickets ranging from $1,000 to $6,000 (proceeds will be split between the two campaigns).

State Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), who is also prevented from raising money during the 90-day legislative session, also has a fundraiser scheduled for Thursday evening. Ticket prices start at $50.

The four other House committee chairs also have fundraisers scheduled between now and the beginning of session, beginning with Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), who has a late afternoon event Tuesday featuring Jones and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D). Ticket prices begin at $250.

Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee Chairman Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

House Environment and Transportation Chairman Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) and Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) have back-to-back events scheduled for late Wednesday afternoon. Barve’s begins at 4:30 p.m., with ticket prices ranging from $250 to $1,000. Davis’ is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., and because his committee sets policy for the alcohol industry, there is a liquor-related theme for ticket purchases: for $250, donors can be an Old Fashioned Friend; for $500, a Paloma Patron; for $1,000, a Whiskey Sour Sponsor; and for $1,500, a Highball Host.

House Health and Government Operations Committee Chairwoman Shane M. Pendergrass (D-Howard) has a fundraiser scheduled for Jan. 11. Tickets start at $150.

Among the other fundraisers of note: An event for Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s) on the evening of Jan. 11 will provide a look ahead at what the Biden-Harris administration will mean for Maryland. The scheduled speakers are Guzzone, John D. Porcari, former deputy Transportation secretary under President Obama who also served as Maryland Transportation secretary; and John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff under President Clinton. Ticket prices range from $250 to $5,000.

Maryland’s Republican Senate Caucus has a virtual fundraiser scheduled for Jan. 12 at 1 p.m., to be headlined by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). Tickets go for anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000.

And as is tradition in the run-up to session, the last fundraiser is an event for the Maryland Women Legislators Foundation Inc., on the evening of Jan. 12. Tickets start at $125 and go up to $5,000.

Jones and Ferguson will be popular during the days leading up to the session. In addition to her own fundraiser, Jones is scheduled to speak at events for Clippinger, McIntosh, Dels. Carl Jackson (D-Baltimore County), J. Sandra Bartlett (D-Anne Arundel) and Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D). Ferguson is the attraction at fundraisers for Griffith and Senate Judicial Proceedings Vice Chairman Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery).

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Josh Kurtz
Founding Editor Josh Kurtz is a veteran chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He was an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, for eight years, and for eight years was the editor of E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill. For 6 1/2 years Kurtz wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz regularly gives speeches and appears on TV and radio shows to discuss Maryland politics.